Horace Andy: Midnight Rocker review – the Jamaican singer’s finest performances yet
Few singers have better mirrored the mercurial sound of dub than Horace Andy. Finding prominence with a spate of singles recorded with producer and Lee “Scratch” Perry collaborator Bunny Lee in the mid-1970s, the Jamaican singer’s vibrato-heavy falsetto has become one of dub’s defining features, as well as featuring amid the nocturnal trip-hop of Massive Attack’s albums.
Over the past five decades, the legacy of Andy’s voice has reflected his music’s history. Just as the acetate of a dubplate wears with each play, giving the genre its uniquely decaying instrumental quality, so his voice has matured from the clean, high-register clarion call on breakout single Skylarking into a richer, more vulnerable tenor. His first collaboration with British dub pioneer Adrian Sherwood, Midnight Rocker is the perfect showcase for this late-career sound, revisiting a selection of Andy’s earlier material in addition to six new tracks.
Sherwood artfully rearranges Andy’s originals, allowing for his vocal range to come to the fore. Sherwood darkens the sprightliness of his 1978 classic This Must Be Hell – which placed a roots vocal over jazz pianist Dave Brubeck’s Take Five refrain – by removing the jazz piano and amping up the track’s dancefloor potential with a crisp bassline and driving rhythm.
Throughout, Sherwood subtly subverts the degraded spirit of dub by using studio-quality live instrumentation. This modern touch brings Andy’s vocals into high definition, in sharp contrast to the earthy pulse of rumbling bass: on their new version of 1977’s Materialist, a synth bass bolsters Andy’s yearning, crackling vibrato, giving a greater sense of urgency to his lyrics on eschewing vanity for spiritual gains; the redux of 1978’s Mr Bassie holds a journeying confidence that transforms the original’s long, melodic notes from pleading to power. New songs Watch Over Them and Try Love bring Andy into the intimate register of lover’s rock, his vocals mirroring a slow dance over the syncopated instrumentals.
Sherwood coaxes some of Andy’s finest performances to date – especially on the fierce vocalisations of Safe from Harm. This potent collaboration suggests there are many more formidable dubs yet in the 71-year-old singer. Midnight Rocker is a late-career masterpiece – and who knows how he might reinterpret it in the years to come.
Also out this month
Malian vocal star Oumou Sangaré releases her latest album Timbuktu (World Circuit), a bluesy, full-throated collection showcasing the stringed kamele n’goni. Tanzanian producer DJ Travella brings his debut record Mr Mixondo (Nyege Nyege Tapes), a blistering exposition of neon rave melodies and high-tempo singeli backbeats. Featuring Arcade Fire’s Win Butler and Shabazz Palaces’ Tendai Maraire, Congolese-Canadian singer-songwriter Pierre Kwenders produces a beguiling mix of multilingual Afropop, rhumba and R&B on José Louis and the Paradox of Love (Arts & Crafts Productions).